Column: There Are Ways We Can Improve Education System – Southern Pines Pilot

For the past 18 months, the discussion of “education” has centered around distance learning, face masks and Critical Race Theory. But the elephant is still in the room: education results in the United States are a national disgrace.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), aka the Nation’s Report Card, measures U.S. students’ proficiency in multiple subjects across the nation for grades 4 and 8 every two years and grade 12 every four years. Achievement levels are Basic, Proficient and Advanced. Here is a summary pulled from the 2019 findings:

● Reading: not to “proficient” level in reading, national: grade 4, 59 percent; grade 8, 66 percent; grade 12, 76 percent. North Carolina grade 4, 64 percent; grade 8, 67 percent; grade 12 not available.

● Mathematics: This assessment measures knowledge and the students’ ability to apply their knowledge in problem-solving situations.

NOT “proficient” in math, national: grade 4, 65 percent; grade 8, 66 percent; grade 12, 63 percent. North Carolina grade 4, 59 percent; grade 8, 63 percent; grade 12, not available.

Other subjects were even worse. National scores for grade 12: not proficient, 88 percent in history; 77 percent in writing; and 78 percent in science.

Generally, two thirds of our high school graduates are lacking in academic skills; and that says nothing about the 7,000 students nationally who drop out every school day.

Education can be transformed by doing these four things:

● Do away with the Department of Education, now going on 50 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of pages of regulations and thousands of bureaucrats in a failed centrally controlled losing organization.

● Decentralize education to the states and school districts, where standards and accountability are at or near the point of execution.

● Expand school choice. Charter schools consistently out-perform public schools because they operate with their own organization, planning and programs, allowing them the freedom to use innovative school models and customized approaches to curriculum, staffing, budgeting and teaching.

● Curb the power, control and authority of teacher unions. Get them out of the education decision cycles and out of politics.

The governor should set up a summer work session. On the first day, three outstanding kindergarten teachers and three equally outstanding elementary school principals meet with a task of defining what every kindergarten student should learn by the end of the school year.

This group would then outline what to achieve during each of the six-week intervals.

That’s it, the kindergarten standards are set. Every elementary school principal and kindergarten teacher in the state will then work to achieve those standards.

A similar group of first-grade teachers and principals, who observed the kindergarten session, now have a clear understanding of their starting point. They establish end-of-first-grade standards at six-week intervals. And so it would go during a summer-long session to define standards for every grade and course.

An organization without accountability is a failed organization. If the accountable governor has established viable standards for all subjects and all grades, accountability immediately moves down to the local level.

The local Board of Education and the schools superintendent are accountable to the public for institutionalizing the standards. They must ensure that each school principal knows they will be held accountable for quality instruction to the standard of every subject in every classroom every day; period. It is the principal’s top priority every day.

The principal’s accountability begins when he or she goes over every lesson plan with each teacher to ensure there is a clear path to the end-state standard.

School principals should be in the back of a classroom every day. If the teacher is behind schedule, if the instruction is sub-par, if the students are obviously not “getting it” there must then be a one-on-one principal/teacher “discussion” at the end of that day. Fix it. Accountability.

Accountability on the part of the principal should include creating conditions for success. That is, an open-door/open discussion atmosphere, an environment in which initiative and innovation are encouraged and best practices sharing is the norm and reinforced with a culture of trust and respect.

Teacher accountability is to teach/test, teach/test so as to know immediately if any student is getting behind. Getting behind in fourth grade leads to being further behind in fifth and so on until that student becomes one of the 7,000 kids who dropout of school every day.

Achievable standards and clearly articulated accountability is a formula for dramatically raising students’ “proficiency” in all subjects across America. It does not begin in Washington, it begins with statewide standards and is accomplished at the point of execution, inside the school house one day at a time.